Ignoring corporate social responsibility will no longer be an option when legislation is toughened up in October, delegates were warned.
Under the provisions of the Companies Act 2006, it will be the responsibility of listed companies and medium-sized companies - 1,000 or more employees - to provide a CSR statement in their annual directors' report from the autumn. Failure to do this could see company directors sued by shareholders.
Although coined in America in 1953, CSR has grown from a predominantly people management-focused practice to encompass issues as diverse as the effect of a company's operation on the environment (food miles) packaging responsible sourcing governance (executive pay) and community engagement.
The UK Government sees it as a device to help it meet its sustainable goals as agreed in the Kyoto climate change agreement.
With a responsibility to highlight CSR, Iona Hill, managing director of consultancy CR Metrics, called on delegates to put systems in place to measure their performance in these key areas now and prove they are "doing their bit".
"If you get CSR right there will be associated benefits for your brand, which will generate customer loyalty," she said. "But whatever you do there should be a business gain. Too many companies carry out initiatives in the local community that have no value other than good PR."
Elsewhere at the conference, BaxterStorey's team at ICI, London, took the inaugural Clean Kitchen Award - sponsored by cleaning company TWO Services - winning a £2,000 prize to spend on equipment. Eighteen companies put forward their kitchens to be judged on a set of criteria from cleanliness to compliance with food safety. Second place went to Sodexho's Directors Table at ING and third to Bartlett Mitchell's staff at Canada Life.
Want to read more? Go to www.csr.gov.uk